This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
What do you think the No. 1 factor is in determining whether or not a customer returns to a restaurant? Most people might say the food. If the food’s great, they’ll be back. But that’s not usually the case.
Service tends to be the leading factor. After all, poor service will drive customers away even if the food is good. And great service will keep them coming back.
This principle applies to your law firm as well. The quality of the service you provide is more important than anything else when it comes to client and customer retention.
So, here are several key strategies to keep your clients happy.
1. Deliver on commitments.
Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. If you simply deliver on the commitments you make, you’re going to separate yourself from most businesses out there.
The fact that most people won’t do what they say they are going to do may be depressing, but it represents an opportunity for your law firm. Take deadlines, your communication and your commitments seriously. Do this consistently, and you’ll build a reputation for dependability and reliability. Many clients will remain loyal to you for that reason alone.
This should become a core value for you and for your team. Don’t continue to employ people who can’t or won’t grasp this concept.
2. Create solutions.
It’s very likely clients will ask you for help in areas that are beyond your scope of services. In my internet marketing business, for instance, clients often ask us for help with printed marketing materials, which is something we don’t specialize in.
Rather than just telling them we can’t help, we’ve invested a lot of time into creating a long list of recommended vendors and service providers that can assist our clients. As a result, our clients know they can come to us for solutions. If we’re not the solution, we will point them in the right direction. This is something people legitimately value, and it’s not difficult to do.
This extends beyond vendors and service providers — it includes problem-solving as well. If a client has a problem, whether or not it’s your fault or even related to you, make an effort to help them solve it. If you’re not able to solve the problem, at least point them toward another solution.
3. Be honest.
Prioritize long-term relationships over short-term revenue. Be honest with your clients. Don’t sell them something they don’t need. And don’t up-sell them if the higher-priced package or product doesn’t make sense for them. This approach might take money out of your pocket in the short-term, but it builds goodwill, loyalty and lasting relationships.
For example, I don’t know anything about cars. I can change a flat tire, but that’s about it. So, I depend on a mechanic to help me take good care of my cars. Unfortunately, I’ve had bad experiences — incidents where I knew for a fact that I was overcharged or sold something that wasn’t necessary.
Several years ago, I was finally able to find a mechanic who I trust — a guy who has, on more than one occasion, passed up easy opportunities to sell me services I don’t need. Unless something changes, he’ll be my go-to mechanic for years to come, and the revenue that I’ll continue to bring him will easily offset any short-term gains he missed out on.
Build a reputation for honesty, and do right by your clients. This creates loyalty and long-lasting relationships.
4. Accept responsibility and make things right.
Sooner or later, you’re going to mess up. You’ll make a mistake, you’ll give bad advice or your team will provide poor service. There’s no getting around this — it happens to everyone.
While it’s obviously not something you want to happen, it does present an opportunity. Many people — and businesses — respond to a mistake by trying to wash their hands of the situation and move on as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not the customer feels good about the solution. For that reason, your response when things go wrong is a powerful way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Keep in mind that when something goes wrong, there’s not always a clear way to determine who is at fault. For example, in my business, if we design a website that a client isn’t happy with, is it really our fault? What if the client wasn’t clear about what they wanted, or didn’t communicate with us or sent us mixed signals? If you deal with subcontractors or other vendor-partnerships, they may also drop the ball at some point.
Regardless of whether or not it’s fair or even accurate, your default response needs to be accepting responsibility and creating a solution. This may include offering to coordinate efforts with other providers that are involved in the process or project. I’ve seen it time and time again — people are impressed when you accept responsibility for a mistake and find a way to create a solution. In many cases, you’ll end up with a stronger relationship than you had previously.
5. Address emotions, not just facts.
When something goes wrong and a client is upset, the first response for most of us is to jump straight into the facts and solve the problem. But in many cases, the more pressing threat to your relationship with your client is the emotional fallout, not the logistics of the issue.
Take time to acknowledge the emotions your client is experiencing. Empathize with them. Let them see that you care. Then, once you’ve addressed the emotions, work on the solution. Train your staff to do the same. The feelings your clients have about your practice are more important than anything else, so pay attention.
Creating life-long relationships with your clients is critical to building a sustainable, profitable practice, and these tips will help you make it happen.